I slow down when I see this sign. A reminder to watch out for innocent people who are unaware of the threat posed by me and my 2000 pound car. Someone who can’t see might be walking around.
I’m on my way to the city. Sitting at the train station, I hear, then see, a large man, dressed in full cowboy gear, shouting into his cell phone.
“I will not bow to any man! No man is my leader! You understand me! You know the only man I am bowing to?? That’s right! God! Dammit!”
To my right, a young mother winces. She and her daughter seem like blind pedestrians, unable to avoid a collision with this careless man and his scary voice. I feel for them. I am quiet, observant and aware. I notice my breath and my thoughts.
On the train, I sit down next to the shouting man and tell him I’m a writer. He immediately takes off his big black cowboy hat and shows me his head.
“You see, I had a big stroke? You see???”
He points to a ridge and a scar on the top of his shaved head. “That’s a shunt. See?”
I see. He starts to talk nonstop. He tells me about his love of drinking and how he cannot understand that it hurts people.
“My drinking is my bidness! Mine!”
He tells me about his ex wife, his ex girlfriend, the controlling cop his new girlfriend is dating, and his grown son who just started speaking to him again after 10 years. It’s impossible to follow his train of thought, no matter how carefully I listen. He constantly interrupts himself and starts on a new story about an arrest on a train or a fight in a bar. He says he sued the mayor of New York. He tells me his name used to be George and that when he became a Muslim he changed his name to Modibo. He tells me this three times.
“Mo-di-bo! Want me to spell it?”
What I really want to know is why he is carrying a dried out, large potted plant, and why he is wearing cowboy clothes, right down to his bright red leather long pointy boots.
But I can’t get a word in edgewise.
I realize that he can’t stop himself from talking. He tells me several stories about his knife.
“I got arrested, see? This knife is over 3 inches long. I told the police, you better have a gun cuz I got a knife.”
He pulls the knife out of his pocket and I wonder if I’m safe.
Finally I get to ask my question about the potted plant.
“So, why are you carrying the plant around?”
“Oh this? (as if we all carry large, half dead, potted plants with us on the train). “Well, it’s from my ex girlfriend. I want it to live. I take it with me everywhere.”
The plant won’t live long. Anyone can see that.
Modibo’s brain chemistry is what it is. He’s really doing the best he can. He says he is sorry at least 6 times, telling me he hopes he did not use cuss words, or offend me.
“I’m sorry, so sorry. Did I offend you? Did I scare you?”
I smile and tell him he did great. He makes sure I have his address and his full name. He wants me to send him a letter, he says, so he can send me a gift.
Modibo is really the blind pedestrian, not the young mother, the daughter, or me. He is the one that requires extra special care.
He can’t be courteous or non threatening. He can’t shut up.
I see now. I’m always in a blind pedestrian area. Someone near me is blinded by grief, another by financial stress. Many people are blinded by mental illness. People are even blinded by windfalls and success.
But blind is blind. They can’t see. They can’t avoid my rolling eyes, or your withering glance. Babies are all blind, vulnerable sponges, absorbing every sound and action around them with no grown up filters. Dolphins can’t see the speedboats headed toward them with killer nets.
If we are lucky enough to see, we have to watch out for blind pedestrians.
I just wrote a book about a chief Buddhist monk of North America, Bhante Sujatha. I traveled to Sri Lanka. I witnessed blindness and poverty on a scale that is unimaginable here. I practice meditation now. I’m able to hear and see my own thoughts and reactions.
The Buddha did not say, “Come and believe.” He said, “Come and see.” This sounds wonderful but the shine wears off when I remember that once I see, I can’t claim blindness. Modibo has an excuse. I don’t.
Engaging in right speech, action and intention is not an option for everyone. Just as a blind person can’t be faulted for stepping in front of a silent hybrid, Modibo is unable to control his words or his volume. I have to watch myself around blind people like him, and practice loving-kindness as if my entire spiritual life depends on it.
Practice. Tough stuff.